By Tarik El-Bashir
When training camp began 2 ½ weeks ago, the Redskins expected a trio of running backs to compete for playing time.
After Thursday’s preseason opener in Buffalo, a fourth contender has emerged: rookie Alfred Morris.
Morris, a sixth round draft pick in April, led all rushers at Ralph Wilson Stadium, carrying the ball 15 times for 54 yards, including three runs that went for six yards apiece. Although the majority of those gains were made against the Bills’ reserves, Morris’ performance left Coach Mike Shanahan wanting to see more of the Pensacola, Fla. native.
“You can see he’s got good running skills and he’s got that forward lean,” Shanahan said after Saturday’s practice. “He’s got good instincts. It’s going to be fun to see him over the next three games, see if he still plays at a hard level.”
“I anticipate he will,” the coach added.
Last week, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King posted a potentially telling comment on his Twitter account the same day he visited with team brass at Redskins Park.
“Florida Atl rkie Alfred Morris solid darkhorse for RB job,” King’s tweet read.
Thursday’s effort in Buffalo, it would appear, only enhanced Morris’ chances of posing a legitimate threat to incumbents Tim Hightower, Evan Royster and Roy Helu Jr., who currently occupy spots 1-3 on the depth chart, respectively.
“We’ve got a number of guys that can play in the National Football League,” Shanahan said. “As each game goes by, we’ll get a chance to evaluate these guys more. But [Morris] sure didn’t hurt himself.”
At 5-foot-10, 218 pounds, Morris boasts a no-frills, physical, north-south style that sets him apart from the others.
“You can see he puts his foot in the ground,” said fullback Darrel Young, who has tutored Morris on details of the pro game, such as pass protection. “A lot of guys can’t do that. He can make one cut and get up field, as opposed to rounding a cut off.”
With five consecutive carries in the third quarter, Morris also displayed the workhorse reputation that helped define his career at Florida Atlantic. On that series, Morris made inside runs for gains of 6, 3, 3 and 6 yards before being stopped for a one-yard loss.
“It just shows my endurance and my willingness, no matter how tired I am, to play my hardest every single play,” Morris said.
Although he hoped to have a pass or two thrown his way, Morris said he was pleased with his performance against the Bills.
“My whole objective was to not make any mental [mistakes] and did just that,” he said Saturday, as he participated in a time-honored rookie initiation, hauling Hightower’s shoulder pads and helmet from the practice field to the locker room along with his own. “I was able to show a little ability out there on the ground.”
The film “revealed the type of runner I am,” Morris added. “I’m a physical guy, I’m a one-cut-and-get-north-south kind of guy. I have good balance, bouncing off tackles and [have] that willingness to get every yard possible each and every down.”
If he doesn’t make the 53-man roster, Morris would seem to be an ideal candidate for the practice squad.
“Competition always makes us better,” Morris said. “With backs like that in front of me, it’s only going to make me better. Regardless of what happens, whether I’m cut, whether they keep me, at the end of the day, if I knew I gave it my all, I’ll be able to sleep that night.”